An African conservationist and entrepreneur, Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka (also known as Gladys the Vet), had just been announced as the winner of the prestigious St Andrews Prize for the Environment 2020, an internationally recognised award.
This prize from the University of St Andrews in Scotland and ConocoPhillips, one of the world’s largest independent Exploration and Production (E&P) companies, was awarded to Dr Kalema-Zikusoka of Uganda, one of more than 520 finalists from across the globe. The prize had been established to reward entrepreneurs with original and practical, realisable ideas.
Her project, Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), was, according to adjudicators, selected for its significant and continued contribution to environmental conservation. A diversity of topics are annually considered for the award, including among others, urban regeneration, water and sanitation, renewable energy and wildlife conservation.
Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) is in the words of Dr Kalema-Zikusoka, a holistic enterprise to improve, not only the health and livelihoods of communities who share habitats with critically-endangered wild animals, but ensure conservation and sustainable development.
Winning the cash prize of USD 200 000, this unique African non-profit organisation was lauded for its collaborative approach in promoting the health of people, animals and the environment and the evidence-backed results during 17 years of operation.
Dr Kalema-Zikusoka had always had a deep connection with especially gorillas whose habitat is being depleted by land encroachment. Understanding the synergy between local communities and the space shared with wild life, she realised that poverty, the competition for food (agriculture) and the spread of zoonotic diseases between people, wildlife and livestock needed to be urgently addressed. (COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease.)
When gorilla babies started to die of scabies, it was traced back to rural communities around Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Mountain gorillas are on the Red Endangered List with just a few more than 1 000 still remaining in the wild.
As CTPH gained the trust of communities in Uganda and people were properly educated about biodiversity, conservation and sustainable development, the organisation also branched out into specialised tours, accommodation and various income producing units, generating much needed income for poverty-stricken rural residents.
Working in five areas in Uganda – Bwindi, Virunga, Queen Elizabeth, Pian Upe and Mt. Elgon– a team of permanent workers and global volunteers ensure that the NGO keeps growing, adding additional benefits to hard-to-reach communities.